Southerland Eyes Another Congressional Bid After Redistricting Ruling
By Margie Menzel
The News Service of Florida
Former U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland is eyeing another bid for Congress after the Florida Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to redraw the state’s congressional map — likely making a Northwest Florida district more conservative.
Southerland, a Panama City Republican who served two terms before narrowly losing his Congressional District 2 seat in 2014 to Democrat Gwen Graham, had earlier resisted entreaties of local and national Republicans to run again in 2016.
“I didn’t ask for this,” Southerland told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday. “I was as surprised as anyone (by the ruling). But when you look at the maps that are floating around — and one in particular that seems to be gaining traction — you know, I represented 80 percent of the land mass that they are proposing in the new Florida (Congressional District 2). ”
Southerland said the Supreme Court ruling gave him “pause.”
“I lost in a very, very tight race, the hottest congressional race in the country,” he said. “I got right at 50 percent of the vote, I’ve got the name recognition and got beat by what the Supreme Court now has said (were) unconstitutional maps. … We’re going to give it prayerful thought and make a decision real soon.”
Graham, meanwhile, said Tuesday she doesn’t plan to run for any other position than the one she now occupies.
“I love being in the House,” she said. “It is a place that I feel is very well-suited for my skill set.”
But the drumbeat for Graham — daughter of former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham — to run for higher office has grown after the redistricting ruling. At least in part, she has been mentioned as a possible candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016.
“I’m not going to close any doors, because if you do a good job at what you’re doing today, then that opens doors for the future,” she said.
As to the Legislature’s coming efforts to redraw the congressional maps, Graham said she anticipated that lawsuits would ensue.
“I don’t deal with unknowns,” she said. “And the redistricting is a big unknown that we will wait and see what happens.”
Lawmakers will start a special legislative session Aug. 10 after being ordered by the Supreme Court to redraw eight districts because of violations of a 2010 constitutional amendment aimed at preventing gerrymandering.
Justices did not directly require lawmakers to redraw Graham’s district, but it is likely to undergo substantial changes. That is because the court ordered a new east-west configuration for the district represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat. Brown’s district currently stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, but under the court ruling it would have to go from Jacksonville to the Tallahassee area.
Graham enjoyed heavy support in 2014 in the Tallahassee area, which is a Democratic stronghold. But the new configuration of Brown’s district is expected to pull away from, many Democratic voters — effectively making Graham’s district more conservative and friendly to Republican challengers. District 2 stretches west to the Panama City area.
Along with Southerland looking at the race, Republican Mary Thomas is expected Wednesday to announce her candidacy for the GOP nomination.
Thomas, a Leon County resident, who is general counsel for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, described herself earlier this month as a strong conservative and a first-generation American who would “make history as the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress.”
Jeff Howell, a Republican state committeeman from Leon County, said he was supporting Thomas in part because she’d thrown her hat in the ring before the high court ruling.
“She was willing to take on Gwen Graham,” said Howell, who is supporting Thomas as an individual and not in his party position. “Just because of that last name doesn’t mean Gwen Graham is invincible.”